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No-fear peers

From vegans to same-sex parents, there’s a parenting group for everyone.
Photos: Chicago Vegan Family Network Up-close and personal with farm animals during the Chicago Vegan Family Network's annual trip to Sasha Farms.
By Amy L. Hayden |

Chicago has long been a melting pot, but what happens when the “pot” has children? While some non-mainstream parents manage to eke out a support system through traditional parenting networks, others have applied a more individualized approach.

Marla Rose, a freelance writer who lives in Oak Park with her husband and nine-year-old son, Justice, started the Chicago Vegan Family Network with Lisa Joy Rosing in 2004. “I knew I wanted to have a vegan community of peers for my son,” Rose says. “So I set about trying to meet other local families with similar values pretty early in his life.” After a mutual friend introduced Rose and Rosing, they began hosting vegan potlucks almost immediately.

Seven years later, the CVFN, which has grown from five families to more than 70 members, continues to hold monthly potlucks, and the group’s activities have expanded to include an annual camping trip, a group visit to the SASHA Farm Animal Sanctuary in Michigan and participation in Vegan Mania, an annual event—held this weekend—Rose founded with her husband, John Beske. And while it’s been a boon for parents, CVFN kids also benefit. “My son knows there are other vegan children, that it’s a dynamic and exciting lifestyle, that it’s something to be proud of and never a source of embarrassment,” Rose says.

Another area group, the Chicago Desi Moms Playgroup also aims to inspire confidence in its members’ children by introducing and reinforcing cultural concepts. Asha V. Patel, a stay-at-home mom of two-year-old Shaan, founded Desi Moms in 2009 to connect Indian families. She envisions the group, which has grown to more than 150 members, as an extension of mainstream parenting groups rather than a replacement for them.

“There are many things about being a parent that are similar across cultures,” Patel says. “However, this group was founded so that we can share the specific cultural and religious aspects of parenting, embracing and incorporating both Indian and American culture” in its activities, which range from playdates to Indian holiday celebrations.

With a slightly different approach, the Neighborhood Parents Network—a Chicago mainstay for more than 30 years—offers its members 26 subgroups, including one for same sex parents. The SSP group, which organizes playdates, parents-only “date nights,” beach outings and parties—as well as participating in family-friendly Pride Parade activities—was started in 2007 with 45 member families and has grown to upwards of 80 families. SSP group co-chairs Monique Urban (a transportation researcher and mother to two daughters, five and three) and Angela DeBello (a public health researcher and mother with Dawn Rescigno to Miuccia, their four-year-old daughter) say they attribute the growth “to greater publicity of same-sex-parented families as well as to holding events consistently.”

Karen Morris, an SSP group member since 2009 and assistant anthropology professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, lives in Wicker Park with her partner of 13 years, Christina Andronache, and their children, three-year-old Finn and nine-month-old Skye. Like Rose, cofounder of the CVFN, Morris finds the SSP group important in shaping her children’s conception of the world. “We need to make sure [our kids] have other LGBT-parented families around them so they can experience the diversity we tell them exists.”

Urban and DeBello agree: “It’s important for our children to see that they are not the only ones with same-sex parents.”

For more information about the Same-Sex Parents group, visit The Desi Moms meets this week on Thursday 3, Friday 4 and Wednesday 9. The Chicago Vegan Family Network will be at VeganMania on Saturday 5.

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